How to Crop to a Selection in Affinity Photo

by Robin WhalleyFeb 22, 2022Photo Editing Tutorials

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How to Crop to a Selection in Affinity Photo

Before we look at how to crop to a selection in Affinity Photo, I first need to tell you that this tool doesn’t exist. As of February 2022, a Crop to Selection tool doesn’t exist in Affinity Photo and the regular Crop tool can’t do this. But the good news is there are several easy workarounds you can use to achieve the same thing. In this tutorial, we’ll look at two easy solutions to cropping a photo to a selection.

What is Crop to a Selection?

If you haven’t come across this term before, cropping to a selection means selecting an area of an image and then removing the rest of the image to leave only the selection. In this way, we crop everything out of the image apart from the area we want. The areas of the image we remove then become transparent. This is a commonly used technique for compositing images, and it’s also used a lot in web design.

Here’s an example of an image that has been cropped to a circular selection.

If this seems like too simple an example, don’t worry. When you understand how to create this, you can use these techniques to create a crop from any selection.

Let’s look at this simple example of cropping to a circular selection.

Cropping to a Circular Selection

Start by opening the image that you want to crop in Affinity Photo. If the image contains more than the background layer, we will first create a consolidated pixel layer. This will make it easier to complete the example.

To create a consolidated or merged layer, click on the top layer in the Layers Studio Panel to select it. Then use the shortcut key Shift + Cmd + Option + E on a Mac, or Shift + Ctrl + Alt + E on a Windows PC. This creates a  new layer which consolidates all the other layers in the image, but it leaves those other layers in place. You should see the new layer appear at the top of the Layers Studio Panel.

Now we can create a selection using the Elliptical Marquee Tool which you find in the Affinity Photo Tools Palette. The Elliptical Marquee Tool has an icon showing a dotted circle. You can see this indicated in the screenshot below.

If the tool’s icon isn’t visible in the Tools Palette, it may be that one of the other tools in the same group is shown instead. Clicking the small grey triangle to the bottom right of the visible icon will display all the tools in the group. You can then select the Elliptical Marquee Tool.

Drawing a Circular Selection

With the Elliptical Marquee Tool selected, check Affinity Photo toolbar below the menu at the top of the screen. For this example, check that the feather setting is 0 pixels, tick from centre option, and ensure the anti-alias option is also ticked. You should also check that the Mode on the left of the toolbar is set to New, to create a new selection.

You can see a screenshot of these settings in the toolbar below.

Now position your mouse pointer in the centre of the image that you want crop. Whilst holding down the shift key on your keyboard, click and drag with your mouse. By holding down your shift key you make a circular rather than an elliptical selection.

Once you’ve created a selection of the required size, release your mouse button, after which you can release the shift key. You should now see the circular selection on the image. It’s important to get the size of the selection accurate as you can’t change it later. You can however reposition it as follows.

Move your mouse pointer over the selection and you should see that it changes to show a four-way arrow. It’s then possible to click and drag the selection to position it on the image.

Options for Cropping to a Selection

Having created a selection on the image, we now have two options to produce a crop from it. The first of these creates an entirely new image whilst the second creates the cropped image on a new layer in the image.

Cropping to a Selection as a New Image

With the image layer still selected in the Layers Studio Panel, click the Edit menu, and then Copy.

Next, in the Affinity Photo File menu, select New from Clipboard option. This creates an entirely new image using the selection you copied. You should also notice that the unselected area the image is transparent (indicated by the checked pattern).

Notice also that Affinity Photo has removed any unwanted areas of the image so that the transparent area fits exactly around the circle. You can then export this image to a format that supports transparency like the PNG format. This maintains the transparent area when the image is displayed, say on a website.

At the start of this article, I asked you to create a consolidated image layer to work with if there were multiple layers in your image. If you intend to make your crop to a new image, you don’t really need that step. It’s possible to bypass this by selecting the option “Copy Merged” from the Edit menu in Affinity Photo rather than Copy. This has the effect of copying all the layers in the image and merging them to the clipboard.

The reason you were advised to create a merged image as an initial step is in case you wanted to crop your selection to a new image layer. Let’s look at what’s involved in that next.

Cropping to a Selection as a New Image Layer

If you followed the previous example and cropped your selection to a new image, it’s possible to select and copy that image back to your current image. This creates a new pixel layer in the image from the crop which you can then resize and reposition.

But if you want to skip that step, you could create a new cropped selection directly in your image. This approach uses a layer with a mask attached to hide the unwanted areas. As you already created the consolidated layer as an initial step, all we need to do is add a layer mask to that layer.

Here are the steps outlined:

  • Create a new consolidated or merged layer in your image using the shortcut Shift + Cmd + Option + E (Mac) or Shift + Ctrl + Alt + E (Windows PC).
  • Draw and position your selection on the image.
  • Add a new layer mask to the merged layer. This converts the selection into a mask.

You can add a layer mask by clicking the “Mask Layer” icon at the bottom of the Layers Studio Panel. This shows a light grey square with a dark circle in the centre. You can see it indicated in the following screenshot.

When you click this icon, it adds a new layer mask to the currently selected layer in the Layers Studio Panel. Also, when there is a selection currently active, it produces the mask from that selection. You can then clear the selection using the Affinity Photo Select menu and choosing the Deselect option.

You now have a layer in your current image which is transparent everywhere except where the selection was.

Notice that the transparent area of this image matches the dimensions of the layers in the image. This is one of the differences between cropping to a selection using this method and cropping to a selection to produce a new image.

Sizing and Positioning the New Layer

Having cropped your selection to a new layer, it’s possible to resize and reposition that layer on the image. You can do this by clicking the Move Tool in the Affinity Photo Tools Palette. The Move Tool shows an angled arrow and is usually the second from the top icon. You can see it indicated in the screenshot below.

After selecting the Move Tool, and with your cropped image layer selected in the Layers Studio Panel, click on the image. You should then see a blue box appear around the image. This will have small circular drag handles that each corner and along each edge.

You can now click and drag these handles to resize the image layer.

If you don’t want to resize the image you can also click and drag from inside the blue box, to reposition the layer. Here’s an example showing the layer having been resize the repositioned.

One benefit of using a mask to crop to a selection is that it’s non-destructive. If you later decide you want to create a different shaped crop, you can delete the mask, create a new selection, and then add a new  mask to the layer.

Summary of How to Crop to a Selection in Affinity Photo

In this tutorial, we looked at two methods you can use to crop to a selection in Affinity Photo. The first of these crops the selection to a new image. The second crops to a selection using a new image layer.

Once you understand these two methods for cropping to a selection it’s possible to use any selection to produce a crop. For example, you could use this technique to remove and replace an unwanted background in an image. This would though require you use a more complex selection tool than the Elliptical Marquee. One such selection tool is the Affinity Photo selection brush explained in this tutorial.

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